The piece is a part of a collaboration between Breakthrough India and Youth Ki Awaaz for the #StandWithMe campaign. Join us as we seek to get conversations going around how we can create gender inclusive safer spaces. #StandWithMe, Be my safe space.
I came from a school where shorts were a part of the sports uniform. Naturally, we wore them often. Maybe I was too young to notice it, or maybe being a school going kid; no one said anything about my clothes.
In my mind, nothing changed when I entered college. The first reality check came from my parents. They asked me to change into something proper and more ‘appropriate’ for college. Upon questioning them, the only response I got was that there was a proper way to dress for college, shorts are too informal and can only be worn at home. I accepted it and didn’t question them further. To me, this wasn’t sexism; this was just my parents asking me to dress ‘appropriately’. So, I did what any college-going kid does when they are told not to do something; I carried an extra pair of ‘proper’ clothes with me in case I got home after my parents and continued to wear shorts in college.
My second check came from a random police constable who was on patrol duty outside my college. He told me“This is no way to dress and come out of the house.” It felt unfair. Why couldn’t I wear something I felt comfortable in, just because I was a girl? What was so inappropriate about wearing shorts in the humid Delhi summers? I started to question everyone, including my parents. I now understood that the whole idea of the proper way of dressing, or dress codes, of parents telling their children that certain clothes can only be worn at home, was nothing more than a just toned down version of what we fought against at protests such as Slut Walk. It was grabbed in societal norms, but it was another way of controlling us, and policing our bodies.
Slut shaming put simply is the act of associating a woman’s “character” with her behaviour, promiscuity with the opposite sex, and or her clothes. The shorter and, in the case of India, more ‘westernised’ the clothing, the “sluttier” the woman in question. Slut shaming stems from the patriarchal practice of attributing purity or impurity to women.
Slut shaming doesn’t always display itself in very obvious ways. It’s not always an attack on women’s choices in clothing, deeming them as too revealing or too loud. Sometimes it’s much more subtle. Sometimes it hides itself in the notion of the propriety of dress, in dress codes, and also in the Indian clothes vs. Western clothes debate.
This second, more subtle form of slut shaming is faced more widely than most are willing to acknowledge. It doesn’t come from strangers passing a comment, or from the aunties in the colony, or maybe even the media. It usually comes from within the four walls of the home, from parents, grandparents, or overprotective elder siblings.
Due to its subtlety, and its origin from the home, it is the more acceptable form of policing. This is largely because it doesn’t directly associate sexuality with clothes. It doesn’t out rightly tell women that they are not allowed to dress in a particular manner. It instead reinforces the view that clothing items like shorts, Capri-pants, etc. are informal clothing, they are to be worn at home, or at the gym; that they have no place in educational institutions.
It is this second type that is, to me, more dangerous. Most of the time, neither the victims nor the perpetrators are aware that they are participating in slut shaming. Any threat is intensified if you don’t even view it as one.